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Labour relations in Botswana: a historical perspective

The Botswana labour movement predates independence, though, according to ‘Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Trade Union in Botswana: Country Report 2003’, there was no organized labour in the form of vibrant trade unions which could effectively articulate the workers’ interests until 1948.

Post 1948, the labour movement became very robust and active (Hunyepa, 2008). In fact, it is incontrovertible that the labour movement contributed significantly to Botswana’s attainment of independence (Kodzo and Ntumy, 2015).

Though regional in nature, the Francistown Employees Union (FEU) and Serowe Workers Union (SWU) contributed immensely to Botswana’s independence (Hunyepa, 2008).

The same applies to the Bechuanaland Protectorate Workers’ Union (BPWU), Bechuanaland Trade Union Congress (BTUC), Bechuanaland General Workers Organisation (BGWO), Botswana Civil Service Association (BCSA), Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Bechuanaland Protectorate African Teachers’ Association (BPATA) and African Civil Service Association (ACSA).

BCSA and BTU were formed in 1937 and 1949 respectively. BCSA, now Botswana Public Employees Union (BOPEU), fought for the improvement of workers’ conditions of service from time immemorial (Hunyepa, 2008).

BCSA teamed up with the African Advisory Council (AAC) in its campaigns against the ill-treatment of Africans by the colonial government (Hunyepa, 2008). The AAC, whose leadership was dominated by Chiefs and a few educated Batswana, was the people’s torchbearer in as far as political emancipation was concerned (Hunyepa, 2008).

During the colonial era, when Botswana, then Bechuanaland Protectorate, was under British protection, which I submit was colonisation disguised as protection, labour legislation was premised on two labour statutes which applied in the Cape Colony. These statutes were the Masters and Servants Act of 1856 and the Protection of African Labourers Proclamation 14 of 1936.

The basis for applying these colonial statutes, which were applied mutatis mutandis in the Protectorate as they were in the Cape Colony ( Fombad The Botswana Legal System 57), was the British Order in Council (Bechuanaland and Protectorate General Administration Order in Council of 1891; Fombad The Botswana Legal System 51), decreed by Her Majesty the Queen in pursuance of the powers bestowed upon her by the Foreign Jurisdictions Act.

The Masters and Servants Act applied to Bechuanaland from 1909 to 1963. The Protection of African Labourers Proclamation, which provided employees with very limited protection of their rights and employment security, also applied to Bechuanaland until 1963.

These Acts were infamous especially because the colonial government was believed to be insensitive to the plight of Africans and employees’ rights (Kalonda, 37). These labour laws were untimely repealed in 1963 when Bechuanaland promulgated her first employment statute, the Employment Law.

This was done in an effort to improve labour relations in the country as well as to secure cordial industrial relations and workplace peace. The Government of Botswana did this by enacting relatively worker-friendly labour legislation immediately after independence in 1966(Kalonda, 37).

Consequently, Botswana’s labour relations have, until 2011, been cordial, with only one major strike led by the Manual Workers Union in 1995.The result was the famous National Amalgamated Local Central Government Workers Union v Attorney General 1995 BLR 48 (CA) case.

Botswana has ratified and domesticated all the fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s Conventions. Consequently, her labour legislation developed to give effect to the ILO Conventions. First, was the Trade Union and Trade Dispute Proclamation, 1942 which, according to ‘Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Trade Union in Botswana: Country Report 2003’, legalised trade unions.

In 1969, the Trade Unions and Trade Dispute Proclamation (TUTDP) was repealed and replaced with the Trade Dispute Act No. 28 of 1969. This Act, inter alia, provided for the establishment of the Industrial Arbitration Tribunal and a Board of Inquiry (IATBI).

It also made provision for settlement of trade disputes and control and regulation of strikes and lockouts. In 1992, the Trade Disputes Amendment Act (TDAA) of 1992 was passed. It replaced the Office of the Permanent Arbitrator with the Industrial Court. It, according to Veronica Moroka & 2 Others v The Attorney General and Another, Court of Appeal Civil Appeal No. CACGB-121-17, also provided for the appointment of judges of the Industrial Court.

This amendment was followed by another in 2004 which resulted in the enactment of a comprehensive TDA which made provision for employer organisations. For many years, only industrial class workers were permitted to unionise in the Public Service.

In 2004, significant amendments were made to the Trade Union and Employers’ Organisation Act, Cap 48:01 which enabled public servants who were not industrial class workers to unionise for the first time in the country’s history.

Previously, public servants could only form staff associations as was the case with Botswana Civil Servants Association (BCSA), Botswana Federation of Secondary School Teachers (BOFESETE), Botswana Unified Local Government Service Association (BULGASA), Botswana Teachers Union (BTU), Association of Botswana Tertiary Education Lecturers (ABOTEL), all of which were staff associations registered in terms of the Societies Act.

Today, Botswana has many registered trade unions within the public service, most of which are affiliates of BOFEPUSU which was formed in 2009 when most of its founding members defected from Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU).

BOFEPUSU’s founding members were BOPEU and the National Amalgamated Local and Central Government and Parastatal Workers Union (NALCGPWU), formerly Botswana Manual Workers Union. BFTU’s members are mainly private sector trade unions except for BOPEU, which disaffiliated from BOFEPUSU in 2015, and Botswana Government Workers Union (BOGOWU).

In 2016, there was yet another amendment to the Trade Disputes Act (TDA) whose principal object was “to provide for the settlement of trade disputes by the Commissioner of Labour, mediators and arbitrators; for the establishment of the Industrial Court as a court of law and equity; for the recognition of trade unions at the workplace and industry level; for the determination of industrial action, protection of essential services, life and property during industrial action; and for matters incidental or connected therewith.”

The year 2011 was a turning point in Botswana’s labour relations history. BOFEPUSU, following Government’s rejection of its 16% wage increase demand, embarked on countrywide public sector strike.

A total of 2 934 employees, who were deemed to be essential service employees and therefore had no right to strike, as held in The Attorney General v Botswana Land Boards & Local Authorities Workers Union and 3
, Case No. CACGB-053-12, lost their jobs.

Government responded to the strike by widening the categorisation of essential services through Statutory Instrument No. 57 of 2011. Government used the Statutory Instrument, made under section 49 of the TDA, to declare certain professions, including teaching, as essential services.

BOFEPUSU referred the matter to the Courts which struck down section 49 of the TDA as unconstitutional in Botswana Land Boards & Local Authorities Workers Union v The Attorney General, Case No. MAHLB-000631-11 and The Attorney General v Botswana Land Boards & Local Authorities
Workers Union,
Case No. CACGB-053-12.

In July 2016, Botswana Federation of Public Service Unions (BOFEPUSU) reported Botswana to the International Labour Organization (ILO), accusing it of violating two core ILO Conventions, namely Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize) and 98 (The Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining) and having acted contrary to the ILO framework definition of essential services. Following the report, Botswana made the short list of top aggressors and violators out of 24 countries.

In 2017, following protracted court battles relating to Government’s unilateral salary increases outside the Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC), which resulted in the Botswana Landboards, Local Authorities & Health Workers Union v Director of Public Service
, Case No MAHGB-000343/16 case, Government did the unthinkable – derecognising the PSBC.

In what the trade unions characterised as victimisation of its leaders, Government attempted to transfer certain trade union leaders, resulting in such cases as Johannes Phalaagae Tshukudu v The Director of Public Service Management & the Attorney
Case No. ICUR 11/16; Koketso Joshua Ntopolelang v K. K Moepeng, High Court Case No. MAHGB-000628-14 and Koketso Joshua Ntopolelang v K. K Moepeng, Civil Appeal Case No. CACGB-106-16.

As late as 2018, while in the middle of negotiations with BOFEPUSU to revive the PSBC, Government wrote a letter to all public service trade unions threatening to derecognise them if they did not regularise their registration in terms of section 46 of the Public Service Act.

BOFEPUSU went to court and interdicted the intended action, arguing that they had always had recognition agreements with Government, long before the inception of the Public Service Act in 2010.

The unions argued that this issue was put to rest after Government conceded that public service unions recognised in terms of the Trade Unions and Employers Organizations Act did not need to apply for fresh recognition under the Public Service Act in the case of Botswana Land boards and Local Authorities Workers’ Union and Ors vs. Director, Public Service Management & Anor 2010(3) BLR 351 per Tshosa J (as he then was). In this case, applicants wanted the joining of other recognised public service trade unions in the settlement of the constitution for the PSBC.

In 2018, relations between government and labour changed for the better, almost going back to the pre-2011 era. The 2019/20 and 2020/21 salary negotiations were conducted in harmony resulting in a 10% and 6% salary increase for scales A and B and C and D respectively.

Also, government committed to the reconstitution of the PSBC; and through the Trade Disputes (Amendment), Bill No. 17 of 2019, Botswana Vaccine Laboratory Services, Bank of Botswana, Diamond sorting, cutting and selling services, Operational and Maintenance Services of the railways, Sewage services, Veterinary services in the public service, Teaching services, Government Broadcasting services as well as the Immigration and Customs services have been removed from the list of essential services.

*Ndulamo Anthony Morima, LLM(NWU); LLB(UNISA); DSE(UB); CoP (BAC); CoP (IISA) is the proprietor of Morima Attorneys. He can be contacted at 71410352 or


The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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